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Semiotics of the Scrunchie

“A decorative ponytail holder for securely holding the hair of a user, includes a band of elastic material with fabric surrounding the band and forming a plurality of radial projections extending circumferentially around a portion of the band.”
—Patent 5301696

The Scrunchie finally got its cultural due in last Sunday’s lecture “Elastic Youth: Interpreting the Scrunchie,” given by artist David Riley at the New Museum auditorium. A founder of Brooklyn-based band Mirror Mirror and a member of The Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness, Riley dissected and analyzed the cultural significance of this divisive chintzy, tortellini-shaped accessory.

First patented in 1987 as a “scünci,” named after inventress Rommy Revson’s toy poodle, the Scrunchie reached the height of its popularity in 1994. Riley’s tongue-in-cheek lecture traced the accessory’s social and historical context through the fall of Communism to the rise of youth and consumerism as American exports. From footage of gymnast Shannon Miller in the 1992 Olympics to Debbie Gibson videos, Riley covered a dizzying range of cultural cues. He even referenced the U.S. military’s dress regulations for female soldiers: Scrunchies are allowed in exercise, but not combat. Live models sported white mink and denim Scrunchies. A slideshow featured contemporary Scrunchie-shaped architecture and forms in nature. But the speech floated far above the glorification of ’80s and ’90s pop culture, with treats like a Freudian reading of the Scrunchie as penetrated orifice and a reach into fashion semiotics à la Roland Barthes. Concluding the impressive lecture-cum-performance, an erudite and comical Riley called for a need to “rename, reclaim and rebrand the Scrunchie.”

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  1. By Scrunchie Study | REID.DAMNIT on November 16, 2010 at 9:24 am

    [...] New Museum had an entire lecture on the iconic Scrunchie, glorious! Found via Dossier Journal [...]

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